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In 'transparent workplace,' everyone knows what you make

Aug. 19, 2013 at 10:12 AM ET

Video: Discussing money in the office may no longer be a taboo conversation topic thanks to the new idea of the “transparent workplace,” a system where salaries are not kept secret. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo talks the pros (like competitive productivity) and cons (such as jealously) with Dane Atkinson, CEO of business tech company Sum All.

Imagine if you knew exactly how much money each co-worker at your workplace is making, from the cubicle next to you to the CEO.

That is the reality at SumAll, a business technology company where the often taboo question of how much people are being paid is all out in the open. CEO Dane Atkinson has created a transparent workplace, where everyone knows what their co-workers earn. 

“It creates better trust,’’ Atkinson told TODAY’s Maria Schiavocampo in a segment on Monday. “It takes away that stress that 'maybe somebody negotiated better than I did. Maybe the boss is making three times the money and not doing anything.'”

While Atkinson believes the idea has its merits, more than 60 percent of TODAY.com readers voted that salary transparency is not a good idea in our online poll. Some experts believe transparency can bring a whole new set of challenges.

“When people know how much everyone else makes, there’s going to be some jealousy,’’ attorney Karen DeSoto told TODAY. “There’s going to be some people who may leave because they may feel that their productivity is higher, but yet somebody who’s not as productive is getting the same pay.”

Atkinson has included his own salary in the transparency to show that everyone is held accountable at SumAll. The salary information of all members of the company is shared on a drive that any employee can view, but it’s not openly broadcasted.

“It definitely makes you feel obliged to live up to your salary,’’ Atkinson said. “It's pretty obvious if you're not delivering for what you're being paid. It also makes it very hard for you to abuse your personal salary.”

Considering people constantly overshare on social media already, some experts believe openly discussing how much money you make could simply be the next step for younger generations.

“For those of the millennial generation who are used to sharing their rent, what they had for breakfast, it feels very natural that they would talk about how much they make for a living,’’ workplace expert Lindsey Pollak told TODAY. “There are so many websites where you can go to find out secretly what people are making. It's really only a matter of time before people can do this on their own with their colleagues.”

Congress has even considered the issue multiple times in the form of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to prevent an employee from discussing his or her salary with co-workers. The legislation has been rejected three times, but shows how the discussion of transparency in pay has reached the highest levels of government.

Atkinson admitted that having a transparent workplace hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, but that it’s worth it.

“It's been a lot of work,’’ he said. “There's much higher bar of communication needed in an organization like this. You need to explain why you've made choices and where people ended up. Maybe not as profitable for a founder, but it's definitely healthier.” 

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